I have pretty strong reservations about the role of bail bondsmen in the American legal system. My problem comes down to them being the only part of the law enforcement system that operates for a profit. Sure, defense lawyers make a profit, but we're fighting against the state. The bail bondsmen are there to ensure that the defendant comes to court, and they get paid for it even if the client is innocent, at the client's expense, not the state's. I've voiced these concerns about bail bondsmen before.
Still, I recognize that bail bondsmen will be a fact of life for Denver criminal defense lawyers and their clients for the foreseeable future, seeing as the surety system is in place in 47 states. Not everybody can make bail in Colorado or other states, and giving up 10% is better than staying in jail. So the current system is something we as Denver criminal defense lawyers have to deal with an understand.
In that vein, there is an interesting special in the New York Times interactive section (warning, it's a video/slideshow), about bail bondsmen. Basically the piece shows they have the most interesting job in the world, dabbling in about a million different fields that most Americans would think you need a lifetime of training to figure out.
First, as an insurance man, a bail bondsman must evaluate the risk of flight for every client. Then, to ensure he gets paid, the bail bondsman has to evaluate the value of collateral the client puts up to ensure his appearance. Then, a bail bondsman also acts as a bounty hunter for those who don't show up to court. All this stuff happens in a wild-west atmosphere with hardly any government regulation, so the guy is on his own. The lesson I took away from the piece as a Denver criminal defense lawyer was that you don't want to mess with bail bondsmen. They are incredibly resourceful, smart, and basically have freedom of the country to do whatever it takes to get defendants into court.